January 22nd 1998
Almost 25 years ago, on an evening drive with my girlfriend I was met with the unfortunate accident that left me a paraplegic. It was about 11:00 o'clock, As we were approaching a bridge near the beach we were suddenly rear ended by a hit and run driver. The impact from behind damaged the steering mechanism of my Volkswagen, I lost control of the car and we helplessly flew off the bridge. On the way down, In the moments before crashing to the bottom I saw my girlfriend falling out the window, I reached over, grabbed and pulled her back inside, suddenly we crashed on the rocks below. My head broke through the windshield. I was thrown 30 feet from the car and seven of my ribs were broken by the steering wheel, I was still conscious. I remember counting, one...two.... The gas tank was full! I remember my body would not respond to my command to get up and get my girlfriend out of a potentially exploding car. This was a moment in my life that I felt totally defeated, a complete failure, helpless. After that my mind was overtaken by darkness, I woke up in the operating room choking on my own blood. My broken ribs had punctured my lungs and the blood escaped through my mouth. I looked like hamburger meat, left for dead.
I would drift from conscience to unconscience. My sister Lydia, was with me all this time. She took the operating room by storm. She came in wearing surgical garments and stood there every step of the way as if cheering me on. To this day I am certain that her presence and energy made the difference in pulling me through the many hours of surgery. My mother was told I had 24 to 48 hours' tops to live due to the extensive injuries to my spine, lungs, and head. My family was devastated and I was taken back to my room. Little by little my family and friends came to see me as if to say a final "good bye." I woke up, I knew I was expected to die. I had no feeling from the neck down. I could only see through my left eye. Voices and sounds were fuzzy. I could hardly speak a word. My only thought was Ann. Where was Ann, my girlfriend who was in the car with me? I was told that she was in the next room, her broken body in a coma. Her prognosis was better, the injuries she sustained were not as bad as mine. It was a marvel that either one of us survived a crash of such magnitude.
As I lay there, I had the sensation that I was in a deep hole trying to get out, grabbing a ladder that was breaking apart step, by step. At the bottom of the hole there was light and peace and no pain. I was grabbing every step to get out of this hole with an inexplicable power, as if this was my will to live no matter what! I was given another 24 hours to live, then another 48 hours, seventy-two.... One morning my mother was cleaning my swollen face when my right arm jerked over towards my head. She pushed back my arm but it went back up, I was doing it! This was my way of saying. "I'm still here, don't count me out just yet!" I regained the use of my right arm and ended up in a chair with controls on the right side. After months of intensive therapy I began to regain my left arm. There was one problem after another, one specialist after another. Finally against all prognosis and many months of pain and anguish I recovered from the most serious of my injuries and ended up with rare paraplegia. The hit and run driver was never found. Needless to say life goes on. Being confined to a wheelchair was not an easy thing to accept at the age of 18. The trauma I suffered was severe, as it is with any person who has experienced such a fate.
I was treated at Rusk Institute, which in the Seventies, was widely recognized as one of the top ten rehabilitation institutes. It was during my stay there that I developed a warm relationship with Dr. Rusk. He had the rare gift of empathy that complemented his keen medical knowledge. He was one of the few that could encourage and cheer me up, a moody young man feeling cheated by life. There were words of encouragement, guidance and counseling, but I realized that the will to live and to conquer must awaken from deep within myself. I stayed focused on my education at college and continuing Physical therapy exercise, which would be the key to my continuous development and well being, but the process was painful. Going to physical therapy became a tiresome and discouraging chore; the waiting for use of equipment, the inconvenience of- maneuvering from one machine to another, assistants pulling and tugging, trying to lift my dead weight back into the chair. The one thing I looked forward to was my turn on the tilt table. I could actually feel the blood start to flow through my body when in the vertical position. When I was done I felt energy restored and there was a certain pride that I was in the standing position, an almost forgotten world for me. Because physical therapy treatment was not only an outrageous expense but also an inconvenience I slacked off going and soon began to develop all the symptoms of deterioration: renal, spasticity, sores and bad circulation. I began research of all the therapeutic equipment that was available, realizing the only way I could help myself or the tens of thousands of others with spinal cord injuries, was to engineer and design the most state of the art, user friendly therapeutic exercise machine. Something for every man woman and child with SCI. A device that not only could be used in rehabilitation and fitness centers, but also compact enough for use in the home, for continuous development.
This recently became a reality after many years of exhausting research and development, prototypes and testing Handiflex was granted FDA approval. That was a happy day, it reminded me of what my Grandfather used to tell me, Bruno' Just go for it! There were obstacles and adversity, I was denied funding by banks, government institutions and private parties. I emptied my bank account and sold most of my possessions, including my home and precious art work, to fund the development and manufacturing of Handiflex. Until now patients were restricted to the wheelchair in all equipment offered for physical therapy. The unique and versatile design allows the user to perform a full body workout on one machine, out of their wheelchair. The custom tilt table is wheelchair level. Safety harnesses are strategically positioned for comfort and protection. With one push of the button the user is able to rotate from horizontal to vertical position; a feature that greatly increases circulation. It also comes fully equipped for a full range of exercises; including curls, butterfly, rowing, pulley, extension, push-ups, dumbbells and stretching. The limit is your imagination.
Parents of children with spinal cord injuries want nothing more for their children than to see that they are receiving the very finest care. I remember my dear mother feeling so helpless when she would see me suffering due to the lack of therapy. That is why I have modified a version of Handiflex for children, with all the same features and capabilities included.
The benefits from this system include enhanced circulation, increased stamina and endurance, muscle tone, bowel and bladder improvement, and joint strength. It also helps prevent muscular spasticity and pressure sores and increases range of motion. It is cost and time efficient, collapsible for space saving efficiency and storage, also equipped with phone ready capabilities. Engineered with scientific precision to meet the needs and demands of the increasing numbers of spinal cord and related trauma incidents.
It is well known that rehabilitation professionals (whether counselors, physicians, nurses or physical therapists) all agree that spinal cord injuries are a health condition that requires regular and serious attention to physical exercise. The Handiflex System meets the first class rehabilitative standards, which are vital if we are going to help ourselves stay healthier and have a better quality of life. Atrophy and deterioration is only a result of neglect. Staying healthy until there is a cure for paralysis is our only option if we are to reach our goals and see our dreams become realities. I am grateful today that through many trials and tribulations my dream has become a reality. To partake with those who have also dedicated their efforts to assist, encourage, and inform the entire world of the hope for a better tomorrow for those with Spinal Cord Injuries.
A comprehensive report of Handiflex and Leasing information for Canada and US residents can be obtained at HANDIFLEX